Leadership Barometer 135 Creativity

I read an interesting quotation in a student paper a while ago: “Demanding creativity is like yanking on a seed to pull out the flower” (by the famous author “unknown”). The optics in this quote really work for me. People have referred to me as a creative person at times, and I even won an award for it once, yet if you stand over me with a scowl on your face, my creativity will dry up faster than a drop of water in a red hot frying pan. Most people have a creative side that will blossom if properly nurtured.

The benefits of creativity and innovation are well documented. Unfortunately, while all leaders yearn for higher creativity, their behaviors often squash it. This article provides seven pathways to encourage more creativity that are simple and powerful.

  1. Let people play – Natural creativity is linked to the concept of play. Just observe children who are about 3 years old, and you will see some of the most creative people on the planet. Reason: The world has not taught them that certain things are impossible. They see clearly with their imagination, and they are not afraid to experiment.
  2. Give them the tools – We typically use brainstorming to get creative at work, yet over the decades since it was invented, it has lost most of its potency. Put brainstorming on steroids using Morphological Analysis, which is a technique where you put dissimilar concepts on two axes and then brainstorm ideas at the intersections of the resulting matrix. This forces the mind to conjure up connections that people habitually ignore.
  3. Do not legislate – We cannot force creativity. By trying to nag people into getting creative, we can actually reduce the chances for novel ideas. Most people are more creative at specific times of the day. Allow people to pick the times when they experiment with new ideas.
  4. Create an environment of innovation – Do this by encouraging people to tinker and rewarding them when they come up with unusual approaches. If leaders in the organization overtly promote creative behavior, then it will spread.
  5. Measure it – The old adage of “what gets measured gets done” is true for innovation. The measure can take the form of documented new procedures, patents, new product announcements, and many other forms. I once knew a manager who found a creative way to measure creativity. He placed a cork bulletin board in the hall with a fence around it. The sign on the board read “Sacred Cow Pasture.”  Then there was an envelope full of silhouette cows made of different colored construction paper. He encouraged workers to uncover a sacred cow, write it on the cutout and pin it in the pasture. The management team would then set about eliminating the sacred cow.  
  6. Reward good tries – Not all ideas are a smashing success from the start. Leaders need to encourage people to try, even if there are failures along the way. The failures are really successes because they uncover other ways something will not work. Failure points the direction to what eventually does work. Thomas Edison had to find nearly 10,000 things that did not work before he figured out how to make the incandescent lamp a reality. Reward deep curiosity and dogged determination. Impatience and a short-term mindset are the enemies of innovation.
  7. Brag about your innovative culture in public – When leaders point out the great creative work going on in all areas of the organization, not just in the lab, people tend to get more excited about it. This leads to a dramatic increase in innovation similar to spontaneous combustion in a pile of tinder.

The secret to innovation and growth is to develop a culture where people nurture creativity rather than force it.  To have a more creative organization, follow the seven tips above. 


Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust.  He is the author of: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind.  Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations

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